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Posts Tagged ‘dailiness’

purple tulips

I’ve been talking about what’s saving my life a lot lately (because it’s the best way I know to get through this winter with a shred of my sanity intact). Today, I’m over at the Art House America blog, exploring how the act of naming those lifesavers can be a lifesaving act itself. Here’s an excerpt from my post:

This winter, I’m finding it worthwhile — even necessary — to name the things that are saving my life. Sometimes I scribble down a list in my journal (a gift from my sister last Christmas, and itself a lifesaver). Sometimes I take the time to write a blog post, with pictures of those purple tulips or a brave blue winter sky. Most often, I’m trading daily texts with my friend Laura, both of us doing our best to find and name the things that are saving our lives. The act of naming them often becomes a lifesaver, a welcome glimpse into the brighter side of this world. (Though sometimes — full disclosure — we also gripe about the things that are killing us. Sometimes venting can save my life, too.)

Join me at the AHA blog to read the rest. (And please, tell us what’s saving your life these days.)

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harvard yard snow blue sky

It’s being awed and intimidated and a little bit thrilled. Me? They picked me?

It’s walking through hundreds of years’ worth of history between the subway station and my office. Which is in the basement. (We call it the “garden level,” but it’s still the basement.)

It’s dodging tour groups on my lunchtime walks through Harvard Yard, and becoming the de facto Harvard tour guide for everyone I know who visits Cambridge. It’s eavesdropping on those official tours, storing up bits of Harvard lore to share on my unofficial ones.

katie memorial church green coat harvard yard

It’s walking Harvard Square, gradually learning which buildings belong to which part of the university. It’s peeking into the secluded quads of the undergraduate houses, learning their names: Eliot, Lowell, Quincy. It’s walking by the music rooms at Adams House and catching a snippet of someone’s piano practice.

It’s going to Morning Prayers at Memorial Church on occasion, to the Harvard Art Museums on Thursdays, to occasional lectures and sporting events for free. It’s roaming the stacks in Widener Library, hardly daring to believe that the resources of this place are at my fingertips. (Sometimes I check out new and notable novels; sometimes it’s obscure English fiction or Veronica Mars DVDs.)

It’s hearing President Faust speak regularly, sometimes in conjunction with world-famous authors, politicians and other celebrities. It’s being amazed at the pomp and circumstance of Commencement. It’s meeting students from all over the world, who are grateful and excited and glad to be here.

widener library harvard convocation

It’s explaining, over and over again, how my job and my office and my school fit into the larger Harvard community. It’s loving the note of pride in my dad’s voice when he says, “My daughter works at Harvard.” (The farther away from Boston you are, the cooler it sounds.)

It’s finding a group of warmhearted, funny, brilliant colleagues to work with and love.

It’s a nine-to-five desk job: email, paperwork, phone calls, meetings. It’s projects and politics and deadlines. It is just like a lot of other universities, and it isn’t like anywhere else in the world.

lowell house tower

I have worked at Harvard for two years today. It is ancient and distinguished and beautiful, and it is also the backdrop for the dailiness of my working life. It’s where I make jokes with my colleagues and answer email and juggle lots of projects. It’s where I get frustrated and tired and overwhelmed, and also where I find joy and satisfaction, as I do my best to do good work.

Harvard Square has become my neighborhood: it has my bank and post office and farmers’ market, my flower shop and bookstores and favorite lunch spots. Sometimes, out and about on an errand, I run into someone I know, which makes this big, crowded city feel like a small town. And sometimes, on my evening walk to the subway, I see the uplit spires of Memorial Hall and Memorial Church, and my breath catches in my chest with gratitude.

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daffodils sunshine morning table

Mostly what I hate about cleaning is how futile it feels. Wipe down the kitchen countertops, and crumbs appear an hour or two later. Sweep the floor, and you’re chasing dust bunnies inside of a week. My kitchen has the kind of dingy yellowish linoleum that never looks clean, even when freshly mopped, and the second I conquer the pile of dishes in the sink, more dirty plates and glasses seem to spring up out of nowhere. And I don’t even have children.

For the record, my husband is a stellar dish-washer and -dryer (we don’t have a mechanical dishwasher) and the only reason he doesn’t do the laundry is because I’m a wee bit compulsive about it. He takes out the trash, and we split the rest of the housekeeping duties between us. But still, the accumulation of life’s daily messes tends to build until it threatens to overwhelm me once in a while.

During our most recent blizzard (which conveniently fell just after the New Year), I tackled a few “dead zones” in our apartment – small, neglected places where clutter tends to collect, resulting in a constant low level of frustration whenever I pass those spots. I made a list, then set to work, clearing off dresser surfaces, organizing a few drawers, and (biggest triumph of all) cleaning out my desk, which I’d intended to do for at least two years.

This is the kind of cleaning that feels satisfying: decluttering, organizing, bringing harmony and order to spaces where chaos previously reigned. It’s admittedly a small-scale victory, and it doesn’t negate the daily work that still needs to be done: the laundry, the dishes, the making of the bed. But it’s nonetheless an accomplishment, a small forward movement toward a cleaner living space and a calmer life.

I haven’t yet tackled all the trouble spots on the list, but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe, next time I’m totally fed up with the Sisyphean nature of scrubbing out the sink or cleaning the microwave, I can pull out that list, pick a dead zone to clear out, and give myself a quick hit of cleaning satisfaction. (Possible spots include: the top of the fridge; the “miscellaneous” pantry shelves; a couple of canvas bins that collect oddments of all kinds.)

Anyone else struggle with the futility of the daily cleaning grind? If you have tips to share, I’m all ears.

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Folding My Way Home

Image from the Flickr Commons

Home is where you do your laundry.

I have yet to see this phrase on any of those distressed wooden boards painted with cheery slogans, so ubiquitous in shabby-chic home décor shops. In my homeland of Texas, the signs often say “Home is where you hang your hat,” adorned with a cowboy hat (or boots). I love the variation I saw on a pillow last year: “sweet home sweet,” a four-year-old’s variation on “home sweet home.” And for the last few years, my husband and I have quoted the line from folk band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes: “Home is wherever I’m with you.” We often feel like foreigners in our suburb south of Boston, but we have chosen, and keep choosing, to make a home together, wherever we are.

There are no signs on my walls about laundry, or washing dishes, or my other daily and weekly chores. But after nearly a decade of washing and spinning and hanging clothes to dry, in half a dozen houses on both sides of the Atlantic, I’ve come to believe that laundry is a quiet but essential part of the way I make a home.

I’m back at the the Art House America blog today, musing about laundry and how it helps ground me. Head over there to read more.

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